“Sweet sun, send me the moon…” —Sara Bareilles
This is my friend, Bev. She met me at a hotel in downtown Portland this weekend.
From the outside, it looked like a regular hang with an old friend. We walked up and down the sneaky corridors of the city, ending at the waterfront with salad and more conversation. Along the way, we passed aggressive panhandlers, the occasional tourist, and a horse (a young kid wearing a horse head like it was nothing — keep Portland weird).
We interacted with shop keepers, too. They mostly responded to my beautiful, kind friend, while I kept to myself and hung back in the shadows as is my habit.
I do this, because I learned long ago that people see through me. I don’t know whether it’s me or them or a combination of both. I grew up with strong personalities, popular life of the party types… My parents, my brother. I gravitate toward those types like a moth to the flame. They’re all I know. Kind of a vicious cycle.
I was also born looking like this:
This is a picture from several years ago, when I was over 200 pounds.
I came from this:
As you can see, my mom is beautiful. As a baby here, I also started off with the potential to be her spitting image. Only, people scared me. I clung to her whenever she visited with her many friends. I cried whenever she left, which was often, to tend bar or party. I used to watch her put on make-up, fancy dresses and shoes, do up her nails. She never left the house without make-up on and her hair done, not even to go to the grocery store.
Somehow, even as a young child, I knew I could never measure up. I knew people would laugh at me for even trying (true story). So I stopped, somewhere between my birth and college.
I’d put myself out there in stops and starts, only to be put back in my place by a careless, thoughtless stranger, or one of my husband’s many musician friends who only gave me a passing glance or a friendly acknowledgement when they were forced to. Then, I’m sorry, what was your name again?
I grew into the habit early on of looking down, even when I walked. I avoided looking at people for fear they would attack me (true story) verbally or physically. Even when I tried to smile and strike up a conversation at the checkout stand, nine times out of 10, they wouldn’t respond. Then, the next customer would come up and the checker would suddenly come to life.
It was a million times worse when I showed up in public with my family. The world would show them the kind of respect and consideration of a Hollywood starlet slumming it.
Servers, nurses, teachers, the physical therapy staff my son sees twice a week…everyone practically genuflects at my husband’s, my mom’s, my son’s feet, remembering them weeks, months, years later, practically knocking me over to get to them.
At some point, I wanted to quit trying. Trying tired me out, shamed me, set me up for failure.
Unfortunately, the eternal optimist in me plus forgetting (to remember my place) would cause me to put myself out there again. This past Sunday, while my husband checked us out of the Hilton after his gig for a Rotary Club Conference, I went to the nearby food area for StumpTown coffee and a snack.
There, I heard the most beautiful voice coming out of a person working the HopCity Tavern & Market. I went over and told her so. I felt I was very approachable, kind, and complimentary about her voice. I said she should be singing, that she was better than most of the singers I hear, and on and on, things normal people say to one another.
She said thank-you, but the rest of her said, “Get away from me, weirdo.”
When I returned with my husband, she talked to him like they were old friends, engaging him in the kind of conversation she would’ve had with me had I been him.
I went back to get another snack less than an hour later, alone, and she acted like I was new. Right through me.
I don’t have many friends. On the surface, it looks like I do. Even my actual friend Bev commented on it.
They’re acquaintances, forced into my life because of activities related to my more popular family members, mostly my musician husband and my athlete son. They would never give me the time of day, if left to their own devices. I do not fool myself into thinking they would, although some days, when we are all getting along, I almost can convince myself this were real.
I met Bev through my musician husband to tell you the truth. He and her husband both played in the worship band of the same church.
But she wasn’t like the others.
She sought me out, not because of my husband, but because of me.
She was nice to me, because she liked me, not because she had to as the pastor’s wife, or the wife of Ed, the talented piano player in the band everyone wanted to get close to. Bev wasn’t a musician or a part of the church choir. She was the wife of a worship band musician too, with children of her own.
If I met Bev on my own, she’d still treat me with the same consideration, like I was a treasure in her life.
I feel safe, comfortable, and valued around her. I feel … normal.
We met in 2002. We’re still friends.
We bought their house when my son was three (he’s 15 now) and her husband had to move back to their hometown in Portland for work. We’ve kept in touch. When we visit Oregon, we try to make a stop to catch up with them.
Bev’s also very much like me, not at all a strong personality. I personally think she should be the most popular girl in the room. She has so much class and grace, she’s funny and makes me laugh, and she sees the genuine in people, through the crap they put on.
I’ve always felt odd and not in a good way. I could hardly stand to see my own reflection, even by accident. I’m that self-conscious about my freakishness.
It’s rare to be around someone who can make me completely forget myself and feel so good about myself at the same time.
My friends could pick me out in a crowd every time. That they would want to even try… Well, I hold onto that like a life line.